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India’s literacy rate lowest among the largest economies

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By Ramon Collado

As of 2015, the literacy rate in India is 72.1 per cent, which entails that over 300 million Indians do not have the ability to read and write. Interestingly, nations that compete with India in trade; services; and industry boast high levels of literacy among their populations—South Africa, for instance, accounts with a literacy rate of 94 per cent; Singapore 96.8 per cent and Taiwan 98.5 per cent. More importantly, China, India’s greatest competitor—India and China are the largest economies in Asia; only trailing Japan—accounts with a 96.4 per cent literacy rate.

With a population of over 1.2 billion, India, the 7th largest economy on the planet, may not be able to maintain a symmetrical pace towards economic development vis-à-vis its rival economies, due to its poor education expenditure; hence, India’s status as an economic powerhouse can turn into an ephemeral, economic boom. If India fails to increase its education expenditure; its economy will fall behind its competitors and slump.

The annual GDP (gross domestic product) of India is 1.8 trillion; however, only 3.9 per cent of it goes to the education system. Japan, a nation that has achieved economic development invests 9.6 per cent of its 4.9 trillion GDP. More specifically, when one compares India to Brazil—a proportional comparison as Brazil and India are similar economies; Brazil surpasses India’s investment with a 6.3 per cent education expenditure of its 1.8 trillion GDP.

India scored 37.8 out of 100—100 represents the best and 0 the worst—on 2015 Universitas 21 ranking of countries which are the best at providing higher education for their populations. India had the lowest score among the 10 largest economies on the planet—United States, China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, India, Brazil, Italy, and Canada. It also scored lower than most of its economic competitors: South Africa (45), Indonesia (38.8), Malaysia (55.4), Mexico (41.7) Singapore (80.3), Taiwan (63.6), and South Korea (60.5).

Emerging economies like Kenya, South Africa, Malaysia, and Nigeria refer to human capital flight (brain drain) as a serious problem, India is not the exception. Human capital flight is caused by a country’s political instability, low education expenditure, low salaries, lack of job opportunities and other factors. Brain drain prevents nations from benefiting from its skilled professionals as they opt for more attractive career opportunities abroad—30 million Indians working for the developed countries are highly skilled. More notable, skilled professionals that work abroad may wind up working for the competitor which can affect the development of the economy of their country of origin—for instance, an Indian, skilled professional that moves to China for a better salary.

India must not ignore the pitfalls of its education system; therefore, it must increase its education expenditure. At this pivotal point for emerging economies—Brazil, India— seeking for economic development, skilled professionals make the difference due to the innovative contributions they can bring into a developing nation. Therefore, welcoming programs for skilled professionals that have left the country can mitigate the brain drain issue in India. Also, job opportunities; grants; attractive salaries; robust investments in higher education and research-oriented programs dedicated to increase the literacy rate, can contribute to the development of the education system simultaneously motivating skilled professionals to remain in the country.

India will not achieve economic development with a poorly educated population; on the contrary, as India’s competitors propel their education systems, and India’s education expenditure remains stagnant, its economic development will decrease while the economies of countries that are prioritizing education become more robust. India must increase its education expenditure in order to secure an elite-class of human capital, thus, steadily advancing towards economic development.

Collado is a graduate candidate in international affairs at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. The article was first published in The Hill.

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“EPA Will No Longer Fund Children’s Health Research”, Say Researchers

Research on children's health risks in doubt over EPA funds

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FILE - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sign is seen on the podium at EPA headquarters in Washington, July 11, 2018. VOA

Long-running research projects credited with pivotal discoveries about the harm that pesticides, air pollution and other hazards pose to children are in jeopardy or shutting down because the Environmental Protection Agency will not commit to their continued funding, researchers say.

The projects being targeted make up a more than $300 million, federally funded program that over the past two decades has exposed dangers to fetuses and children. Those findings have often led to increased pressure on the EPA for tighter regulations.

Children’s health researchers and environmental groups accuse the EPA of trying to squelch scientific studies that the agency views as running counter to the Trump administration’s mission of easing regulations and promoting business.

“A lot of the centers, including mine, have identified a lot of chemicals that are associated with diseases in children,” said Catherine Metayer, an epidemiologist who directs research into children’s leukemia at University of California at Berkeley through the federal program.

The EPA awarded smaller than average funding for the research grants for this year, asked Congress to cut funding for it from its budget, and has refused to commit to future funding for the program.

“The EPA anticipates future funding opportunities that support EPA’s high priority research topics, including children’s health research,” spokesman James Hewitt said, while declining to answer questions on the future for the national research projects.

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FILE – 15-month-old August Goepferd received the measles, mumps and rubella booster shot at a clinic at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis. VOA

Children’s centers at universities around the country typically get joint funding from the EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in three- and five-year packages, with most packages running out in 2018 and 2019. With no word on future funding, researchers overall “have been kind of scrambling to find a way to continue that work which is so important,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the children’s center at the University of California at San Francisco.

Woodruff’s federally funded work includes looking at how flame-retardant chemicals and PFAS compounds – a kind of stain-resistant, nonstick industrial compound – affect the placenta during pregnancy. The Trump EPA has come under increasing pressure from states to regulate PFAS as it shows up in more water supplies around the country.

With no news from the EPA on any more funding in the future, “we’ve been winding down for about a year” on work funded through those grants, Woodruff said. On Tuesday, a banner across a website home page for the overall children’s research declared “EPA will no longer fund children’s health research.”

The EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have jointly funded the children’s environmental health research since 1997, through grants to at least two dozen children’s environmental research centers around the country. The annual grants averaged $15 million through 2017. In the current fiscal year, the EPA contributed $1.6 million, agency spokeswoman Maggie Sauerhage said.

The research often involves enrolling women while they are still pregnant and then following their children for years, to study environmental exposures and their effects as children grow, said Barbara Morrissey, a toxicologist and chairwoman of the EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee.

The long-term projects often produce much stronger results overall than one-off studies do, Morrissey said. Each children’s center funded by the grants also works to spread information about environmental threats to local health workers and to families.

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Children’s health researchers and environmental groups accuse the EPA of trying to squelch scientific studies that the agency views as running counter to the Trump administration’s mission of easing regulations and promoting business. VOA

The institute is under the National Institutes of Health, which has numerous other children’s environmental research studies underway but said with the EPA joint program left hanging, it was considering a new program to put lessons learned about pediatric risks into practice in communities.

EPA’s funding for the grants comes from the agency’s Science To Achieve Results, or STAR, program for research into environmental threats. The Trump administration 2020 budget request sought to eliminate funding for the STAR grants, and sought a nearly one-third cut in the EPA’s budget overall.

A House Appropriations subcommittee released its own budget proposal Tuesday to restore funding for the STAR grants and boost the agency’s overall budget from last year by 8%, rejecting the administration’s requests for cuts.

EPA spokespeople did not respond when asked why the EPA had asked Congress to end funding for the grant program, and whether the agency would commit to continuing the children’s health research if Congress overrides the EPA and restores funding for the grants, as expected.

The science journal Nature first reported funding concerns for the program. In a statement Tuesday, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group said “crippling research to protect children’s health, while bowing to the agenda of the chemical industry, is the calling card of the EPA in the Trump administration.”

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Even if the administration restores funding to previous levels, for one year or several years, the time span of grant cycles and grant-funded work means that uncertainty over continued federal support is making the intended multiyear research untenable, researchers and program supporters said.

“The whole point of these children’s centers is to be following children over time,” Morrissey, the chairwoman of the advisory committee to the EPA, said. “That’s why it’s so high-quality.” (VOA)